Subbacultcha through your eyes
Excepter’s new album, Familiar, is the experimental Brooklyn quartet’s 13th. With a body of work spanning more than a decade, the band has seen it’s fair share of line-up changes, going from a sextet to a quintet and finally a quartet. We caught up with the most stable element of the group, founder John Fell Ryan, to see what he thinks about bad advertising, branding and jingles
Phone interview by Koen van Bommel, photos shot by Robbie Brannigan in New York, USA
“Bands and brands are really kind of the same concept.
Our main product is… the records”
Looking at your website, trying to find the merchandise section for a T-shirt or some Excepter pens and buttons, there was none!
We made T-shirts before, but we sold them all. We do have a logo, so, uh, yeah…
And how about putting that logo on your own bottled water?
Yeah… I mean, we might make a canvas bag or something. It’s just that branding, I don’t know. Bands and brands are really kind of the same concept. Our main product is… the records.
Can you tell me a bit about your corporate identity?
Well, I make the designs for all the records, and they all look kind of the same, they all have illustrations and hand-drawn words. And other times it’s a photo, usually of water. Or a building. I always wanted the records to look like they belong together. Around the time Excepter started I was a big fan of Basic Channel, and all their records had the same look, a distorted, pixelated kind of mess.
Have you ever done design work for others?
I did a logo once for another band, but they didn’t use it. And I designed a CD for William Parker, the jazz artist. It’s pretty weird, actually: that’s the only cover design I ever made for someone else. I’ve done some layout work, but that’s not really creative. It just requires that you’re able to use Photoshop.
“We have a couple of songs that would make good jingles. If it wasn’t for, you know, the beatnik posmodernism we drizzle on top of things”
Has your music ever been featured in a commercial?
One of our songs was used in the Vice TV episode about Indian call centres. It plays in a scene when they’re in a club, the reporter goes out and gets drunk with a call centre crew. I guess he was an Excepter fan and decided to just slip it in. But for a commercial? No.
Would you want that?
We do have a couple of songs that would make good jingles, I think. If it wasn’t for, you know, the beatnik postmodernism we drizzle on top of things. But some of the tracks are the kind of catchy, dorky stuff that I always like. You probably don’t know what I’m talking about, but, like, ripping off The Banana Splits theme song. It’s this kids’ show from the late ’70s. The song goes, like: ‘One banana, two banana, three banana, four. Five banana, six banana, seven out the door.’ It had big furry guys in costumes.
That sounds interesting.
I have a respect for jingles and for advertising as well, but it’s always just so terrible. There’s this ad campaign in the subway in New York, it’s for the tourism board. And it says: ‘There’s more to New York’, and they show places that aren’t New York City, and what they have to offer for tourists. And then they have, like, theatre in Buffalo. That’s a very isolated town near the Canadian border. Not a place where a tourist would go to see theatre. ‘Oh, I was thinking of going to Broadway, but I think I’ll go to a completely isolated town far away.’ Doesn’t make any sense. You can almost see how these ideas come about. You can see the boardroom. You can see the 12 people pitching out ideas. And eventually it’s their job. They have to say yes to something.
Maybe if they had a really good jingle, it would help entice people to go all the way to Buffalo…
Maybe if they hired me, so I could say: ‘Listen, idiots, this doesn’t make any fucking sense.’ But that’s from an artist’s perspective. And art has no business with advertising.